Digging and Discovering … on Campus

Here at Michigan State, we have finished the field school, completed most construction-related projects, and are cleaning artifacts, organizing things and preparing for the new school year. I (Lynne Goldstein) am personally doing conference calls and trying to catch up on a variety of things that are due.

Doing archaeology on campus is a great way to train students, engage the public, and make people realize that archaeology is literally under their feet. It is our hope that we not only preserve and protect the campus heritage, but also that we make students, faculty, staff, and the general public aware of archaeology and why it is important.

To that end, the field school was in a great location this year – along the river and right behind the Administration Building. The location was not only lovely and prime territory for duck and goose watching, but it is also a high traffic area, with lots of people – including administrators – walking by daily. Here is a shot I took from the Provost’s office: IMG_1788

And here is our end-of-dig crew shot: IMG_2092

Archaeological work outside the field may sound dull, but it really is not always the case, as I noted yesterday on Facebook:
“Sometimes meetings are very enjoyable. Just returned from a meeting about new campus historical markers, focusing on the “Sleepy Hollow” area. MSU wants to include info on the prehistoric site we found at the edge of the hollow, as well as info the MSU Campus Archaeology Program has on historic sites and events in the area.
After the meeting, we went and inspected a couple of sites, then I visited the Beal Botanical Garden because all of the Eastern Agricultural Complex domesticates were blooming – goosefoot (Chenopodium berlandieri), sunflower (Helianthus annuus), marshelder (Iva annua), and squash (Cucurbita pepo).”

The Lansing State Journal ran an article this week on archaeology in Michigan, and we are very pleased that we are featured, along with Fort Michilimackinac and others.

The field school excavated a really interesting historic site that was apparently a single dump episode – in 1924, the head of grounds for the campus (also a Professor of Horticulture) remodeled and modernized his house and used the construction debris as fill for a low spot along the river, not far from the house. Everything we found dates from 1890s-1925. Field school students blogged about the work and what they found, and you can find those posts here.

Our regular CAP posts continue, and this link tells you about the outhouse we found which is probably linked to Saints Rest, the very first dormitory on campus. We are very excited about this find because we have been searching for an outhouse associated with the dorm for a long time. Archaeologists like outhouses (well, old ones that don’t smell anymore) because no one goes after anything they dropped into one, and people also often used them as a dump for debris.

We do have some sidewalk work to do on campus, and this often yields really interesting things. The University replaces sidewalks with some regularity (they are now trying to install “green” sidewalks everywhere), and there is often undisturbed stuff beneath the old sidewalks.

Michigan State University’s Campus Archaeology’s “Aha” moments

For this year’s Day of Archaeology Michigan State University Campus Archaeology decided tell the story of our “Aha” moments, those moments when the archaeology comes together perfectly with the other evidence and answers all (well most) of the questions. So we asked our CAP crew to describe one of their CAP “Aha” moments.

Kate Frederick- Moore Artifact

The MSU Campus Archaeology Program helps to mitigate and protect archaeological resources on MSU’s campus, while working with multiple departments to instill a sense of stewardship of the cultural heritage of MSU. The goal of our work on campus, both in research and in archaeological investigations, attempts to make visible a past that has been stored away, forgotten, or pushed aside by progress. We use archival material and historical records to help piece together a history of campus that is accessible to the public. This historical context is used to provide us with a framework for our survey, excavation, and research. Our discovery of the “Moore artifact” is one example of how all these pieces came together.

The first building on MSU’s campus was College Hall, which was built in 1857 by the original MSU students. It was poorly constructed and though repairs were made several times, it actually collapsed during marching band practice in 1918. Generally, that would be the end of the story for a building…but CAP uncovered more life history of College Hall.

In 2009 CAP excavated an area next to the Red Cedar River, which winds through campus. During these excavations we uncovered a large amount of building debris. While the debris was odd, the area was a very low section near the river that historically often flooded, so it made sense that this area would be shored up in order to prevent erosion.

Artifact found during excavations on the Red Cedar R.

Artifact found during excavations on the Red Cedar R.

However, it was the what, not the why that was interesting. A piece of wall plaster with the name “Moore” signed on it, was discovered in the building debris.

We were able to match this artifact to a picture found in MSU Archives of College Hall; students who built College Hall signed their names on the basement wall.

Note on College Hall wall left by MSU students in 1887. Courtesy MSU Archives

Note on College Hall wall left by MSU students in 1887. Courtesy MSU Archives

This led to our “Aha” moment; after College Hall collapsed the debris was hauled a few hundred yards away to a low spot on the river, this act was never recorded in MSU’s history. CAP was able to track the life history of College Hall to its final resting place on the Red Cedar.

Josh Schnell- Veterinary Laboratory 

MSU Campus Archaeology has to work closely with the Infrastructure and Planning Facilities Department and mitigate with construction companies on areas with a high potential for cultural heritage. One of CAP’s “Aha” moments came at the start of our summer field season this year. It started with a phone call from one of the construction foreman’s on campus; he said that they had found a pile of bricks while digging and that we should come check it out. Upon arrival, and after some cleanup, it was clear that we were looking at the foundation of a building. Because of our proximity to the main steam substation, our original hypothesis was that the foundation was an early rendition of MSU’s steam power infrastructure.  However, we kept finding artifacts that we couldn’t quite put a finger to, such as small animal bones, a metal tag, and a group of three keys. After the first day we cleared and mapped a section, and took GPS coordinates of the corner of the structure.

CAP crew excavating the west wall of the Old Vet Lab

CAP crew excavating the west wall of the Old Vet Lab

One huge advantage to our work on campus is that we have easy access to MSU historical documents; therefore, in an effort to figure out what the foundation was associated with, we visited the MSU Archives. Initially, our research left us with no definitive answers, all we could find was the presence of some barns and several more permanent structures, but not much beyond that. The pieces started coming together when, while researching, I remembered that I had done a map overlay and georeferenced an 1899 map of campus with GIS data pertaining to modern campus for a previous CAP project. There was one building that

MSU Veterinary Lab 1885. Courtesy MSU Archives

MSU Veterinary Lab 1885. Courtesy MSU Archives

matched the location of the structure we found, and whose southwest corner coordinates matched the GPS coordinates we’d taken the day before, leading us to the conclusion that we had found the MSU’s first veterinary laboratory. This “Aha” moment was further clarified when we connected the interesting artifacts (i.e. animal bones and metal ID tags) to the original functions of the vet lab. Built in 1885, the Vet Lab was a huge step towards making MSU the leading veterinary research institute it is today.

Ian Harrison- Munn Field

CAP is often required to shovel test around campus, in areas where construction will potentially damage the cultural heritage of historic campus. Recently, we were shovel testing an area known as Munn Field, which has a long history of campus activities, like tailgating.

Ian and Josh excavating metal pit at Munn Field

Ian and Josh excavating metal pit at Munn Field

One of the shovel test pits turned up a large amount of metal wiring. Upon expanding the unit we found bundles of metal wire, 5 horseshoes, a graphing compass, metal ingots, coal, ash, and a Benzedrine inhaler.

Metal wire filled pit at Munn Field

Metal wire filled pit at Munn Field

While the results of the excavation appeared to indicate a waste/trash pit of some sort, we lacked the background information and context necessary to get a more complete understanding. Upon going to the MSU archives however, everything started coming together. By analyzing the make and model of the Benzedrine inhaler. we were then able to search the University’s records for previous uses of the Munn Field area that fell within our timespan. As we found out, there was an army ROTC building, a horse track, as well as a series of Quonset houses (built following the end of WWII) in that area of the field. Further, due to the distinct evidence of burning (slag, ash, and coal) found in the pit, it seemed to be associated with a forge, which rules out its creation due to thee horse track and Quonset houses. As such, we determined that the strange pit was likely associated with a forge in or near the army ROTC in the years surrounding the Second World War.

One of the horseshoes found at Munn Field

One of the horseshoes found at Munn Field

Lynne Goldstein, Director, MSU Campus Archaeology – Sustainability and Public Archaeology

When I created Michigan State University’s (MSU) Campus Archaeology Program (CAP), one of the critical pieces in the program was public archaeology – we wanted to make sure that the broader public knew about MSU’s past and how archaeology contributes to knowledge about the past. We have participated in Day of Archaeology since its beginning. We developed a social media strategy, and we make sure that the regular print media also know about what we do. We have made a concerted effort to publicize our work across as many different kinds of media and across as many different kinds of communities as possible. Lately, however, we have begun to see that sustainability is a real problem for us (and probably for lots of other public archaeology programs too). This is a different kind of “Aha” moment.

The CAP program itself is now sustainable, but the knowledge about the program is not. At a university, students come and go each year – lots of new students entering, and lots of current students exiting. In addition, faculty, staff, and alums change. If you look at CAP’s short history, we have done well in keeping people up on what we do, but we have not done as well in ensuring that new community members know about us and what we do. We have also discovered that they don’t know about MSU’s past either. This is not an easy problem to fix, since there is not one place or medium that everyone in our broader public uses to be informed about things. Further, CAP does not have a permanent place on campus where people can visit or go for information, beyond our website, Facebook page, Twitter feed, etc. – they have to know those exist in order to visit. People don’t necessarily read the campus newspaper anymore, they may or may not be on Facebook or Twitter, etc. This is turning out to be a thornier problem than we anticipated. During July, I am teaching a class on Methods in Cultural Heritage Management, and the class is developing a draft cultural heritage plan for the university. One aspect of that plan will have to be communications and sustainability of communications. We will keep people up-to-date on what we are doing, but I think that we may be experiencing a small piece of a larger problem in public archaeology. We’d be interested in hearing about how others are handling these problems.

Unearthing Detroit: Revisiting Collections in Current Contexts

I am Kaitlin Scharra, the Senior Student leader of Digital Media and Public Outreach with the Unearthing Detroit  project at Wayne State University under the direction of Dr. Krysta Ryzewski. We are a collections-based research unit working with artifacts from mid-20th century salvage excavations during the construction of some of Detroit’s most prominent features.  Many of these collections, due to time and budget restraints, have remained under-analyzed since they were unearthed.  Our focus is to discover the cultural narrative of these areas through reanalysis of the artifacts and archival research.  In turn, we bring the knowledge forth to the community in the form of public days, classroom archaeology, and social media.  We can be found at http://unearthdetroit.wordpress.com/, as well as, on twitter @UnearthDetroit and facebook

Unearthing Detroit

The GM Ren Cen is located at Jefferson and Randolph Street along the Riverfront in downtown Detroit, MI.

Here is a look at how the Unearthing Detroit project links Detroit’s present with its past using our most explored collection- the Renaissance Center.  By compiling map data over the past weeks, our team has determined where sectors from the 1970s salvage excavation were located in respect to the current Renaissance Center buildings.  Each of the following sets (representing individual sectors) will show a current photo of the sector location alongside a sample of the area’s artifacts.  We included with each an explanation of what we have discovered about each sector and where we hope to go.  We reference both a faunal analysis completed by Karen Mudar (1978), and an investigation into the ceramics completed as a master’s thesis by Stephen Demeter (1990).


Sector F

The westernmost sector of the excavation spanned the historic block northeast of the intersection of Randolph and Atwater.  Notably, this was downtown Detroit’s eastern border during the 19th century.  It is currently the area in front of the Marriott Detroit Downtown’s main entrance.

Unearthing Detroit

Sector F (Clockwise from left): (1) Downtown Detroit Marriott entrance view of Renaissance drive leading to Randolph. (2) Whiteware (3) German Printed Ironware (4) Oyster Shell

Historic research shows that this area belonged to the Berthelot family.  Senior student leader and archival researcher, Kate E. Korth, postulates that the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, which coincided with mass immigration, altered the economic landscape of this property.  Artifacts, likewise, show evidence of the transition to a bustling marketplace and hub for incoming populations.  Trade interaction between French and Native Americans is also indicated. This sector as well as the following are our oldest dated collections (ca 1790-1890).


Sector J

Sector J was at the historic intersection of Franklin and Brush streets. Currently it is located to your left as you head onto the bridge to the main tower.

Unearthing Detroit

Sector J (clockwise from top): (1) View of 100 tower from central bridge over GM Showroom (2) Leather Buttons (3) Sewing Kit (4) Transfer-Print Whiteware

Sector J artifacts have not been widely reanalyzed yet.  We do know that according faunal and ceramic analysis that this area was economically wealthy.  We hope to look into who these artifacts belonged to and complete a reanalysis of dates.


Sector G

Taking up the western half of the block Southwest of the historic Brush and Franklin intersection is Sector G.  The central tower stands over this area today.

Unearthing Detroit

Sector G (Clockwise from left): (1) View of central tower from GM Showroom (2) Plate from which newspaper article was taken- dates to April, 3 1833 (3) Leather Shoe

Faunal analysis and ceramic analysis led to disagreement as to the economic standing of this area. While we know this area was apart of the brush family farm, we are encouraged to reanalyze the socioeconomic status of this area.  The large amount of shoes recovered from this area inspire further questions about the craft and trade in this area.


Sector I

The shopping area between the 200 and 300 towers was constructed atop what was Sector I and the historic second half of the block shared by sector G.

Unearthing Detroit

Sector I (Clockwise from upper left) (1) Shopping area located between the two western towers (2) A Pepsin Bottle (3) Industrial Stoneware (4) Pocketknife (?)

A minimum vessel count, done by Samantha Malette and Kate E. Korth, concluded that the artifacts in this assemblage were from a boarding house.  Historical records indicate that this area was highly influenced by traffic of working class population due to it proximity to the shoreline and Grand Trunk Railroad.  This neighborhood, dating later than other sectors, had artifacts consisting  largely of everyday objects.  We believe this means the area was well traveling point for visitors as opposed to static households.


Sector K

Sector K was a survey to the east of the main buildings across Beaubien street.  It was where the 500 and 600 buildings stands today. Historically, it is known that this was an area of the Brush Family Farm located Northeast of Beaubien and Franklin.

Unearthing Detroit

Sector K (clockwise from left): (1) Port Atwater Parking Structure in the shadow of 500 and 600 Towers (2) Stoneware Rim (3) Whiteware Teacup (3) Sherd of Rockinghamware Spittoon


Ceramics made up the vast majority of this collection.  There was a mix of rockinghamware and large amount of plainware.  While this indicates a lower economic standing and much later date than the other sectors, there was also  a large amount of transfer prints.  The markers marks on such high class goods date them to the early 1800s.  The question being investigated is, “Are these outliers in the collection due to different stratigraphic levels or were they hand me downs used alongside plainware?”.

Our collections-based research of over 2,000 artifacts has a long way to go.  We estimate we have touched only about 3% of the collection in reanalysis. We look forward to learning and outreaching even more as we discover more exciting facts about the changing landscape of this area from the late 1700s to today.

A Day at Michilimackinac – July 25, 2013

I am Curator of Archaeology for Mackinac State Historic Parks.  In the summer my primary responsibility is to direct the archaeological excavation at Colonial Michilimackinac State Historic Park.  We are currently excavating a fur trader’s house within the palisade walls of reconstructed Fort Michilimackinac.  The house was one unit in a five unit rowhouse originally  constructed in the 1730s and demolished in 1781 when the garrison was relocated to Mackinac Island.

I just opened a  new 5′ x 5′ square this week, so I spent most of my day removing sand and a buried sod layer from twentieth century park activities.


This is the new square i recently opened.

This is the new square I recently opened.
© 2013 L Evans

Most of the squares we are working on at the moment are below the floor level of the house.

Deep pocket of 1781 demolition matrix with barrel bands and hinge exposed.

Deep pocket of 1781 demolition matrix with barrel bands and hinge exposed.
©2013 L Evans

Because we are excavating in the middle of a popular living history site, we devote a lot of time to educating our guests.

public interpretation

©2013 L Evans

Most of the time it is great to work in a state park with running water and many other modern amenities.  The big excitement today was a broken waterline, snapped during a landscaping project.

Here is the broken line.

Here is the broken line.
©2013 L Evans

Many of the artifacts we find are tiny, the kind of items that were swept through the cracks in the floorboards, such as fishbones, seed beads and lead shot.  To find them, we waterscreen our deposit.

Robert H. spraying down some deposit.

Robert H. spraying down some deposit.
©2013 L Evans

The broken waterline slowed that process down for 1.5 hours, but our park operations crew got the line fixed and we were back to recovering little bits of history.

Archaeology is Anthropology

As a college student, the question of my major and future career ambition is one of those frequently asked questions that I contend with on a daily basis. Very few seemingly understand what it means to study cultural anthropology- that isn’t necessarily a value judgement, merely an assessment of my personal experiences. The FAQ takes various forms, but amounts to something like “What are you going to do with that?” or “Oh, so you’re going to be a teacher.”

One of the many docks that is part of the inventory of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

I must admit that I often ask myself the same question(s), which prompted me to participate in an internship rather than a field school this summer as part of my undergraduate degree requirements. I knew that I had to find something that interested me both as an anthropologist and as a historian.

I ended up working on a project that satisfies both of those requirements. So far this summer, I have participated in a NAS fieldschool that was held in Traverse City, Michigan and helped other underwater archaeology students with their individual projects. I have attended various organizational events as a representative of my site supervisor/mentor. But for me, one of the coolest things about this internship is my participation in a complete inventory of the historic docks and piers of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Last summer at this time, I was spending the day conducting research on a shipwreck that washed ashore in the same area in late 2010. This summer, I spent the day (once again) doing research. And while the area of historic research is not really in my scope of interest, the information that I found on one of the historic sites is rather fascinating (which for me was rather unexpected). The dock that I am researching is called Aral Dock and is one of many century old docks in the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore that has all but disintegrated into just pilings. The dock itself was rather homogeneous for the area in both build and use. Cargo such as lumber and agricultural items was loaded and unloaded at the dock and was sent on its way to various ports around the Great Lakes. Aral Dock is not interesting (for me) because of it’s construction, or materials, or rate of decay; Aral dock is interesting because of the scandal that surrounds it.

Research through local and regional newspapers as well as oral history from residents shows that there was a double homicide on this particular dock, earning it the nickname “Murder Dock”. The reason was money related- taxes, specifically- and the murder touched the small agricultural port town in a way that was unexpected for that community.  As a student of anthropology and history, this salacious history of an area that is currently considered to be quiet and relaxing for residents and tourists alike is an interesting study in local anthropology.

The area itself was a combination of industrial and agricultural, with the docks acting as a material reminder of how these people once lived and worked. What remains of the historic docks in the area is submerged in varying depths of water, ranging from shoreline depths to fifteen feet. Position fixing has been a chore, especially because of the wave action that is common in this specific bay on Lake Michigan. That is not to say that this experience hasn’t been enlightening or enjoyable. I can now say with confidence that I know what it is that I can do with my degree in Anthropology: I want to take what I have learned and apply it the field of historic archaeology, specifically sites that are underwater. Yes, I will likely spend more time in a library, museum, or historical society than I will in the field. I will likely be spending large amounts of time sifting through innumerable amounts of historic photos and oral histories as I did on the Day of Archaeology. But I have come to realize that there is no better way for me to combine my interests in history and human culture than by studying the physical material remains of the people that once occupied the most beautiful place in America.

Plus, my office will have one heck of a view. So, there’s that, too.


Investigating Urbanism at Ancient Gabii

One would scarcely guess that a mighty ancient city once occupied the site of Gabii as it is today simply a quiet spot in the eastern suburbs of Rome, Italy. Yet a quick look at the physical landscape and its now dormant volcanic features makes it plain why a first millennium BCE city grew – and prospered – here. The Gabines found themselves at a key crossroads, positioning them well to capitalize on trade in central Italy and to eventually enjoy unprecedented political and ritual friendship with Rome herself, as described by the ancient authors.

It was perhaps the fact that the site of Gabii is now abandoned – a rarity for the ancient Latin cities, shared perhaps only with Tusculum – that attracted a team from the University of Michigan to begin work on the site in 2007. A key question for the Gabii Project team then (and now) revolved around a great curiosity of the beginnings of urbanism and its processes in Italy, along with a full exploration of the material culture correlates for the emergence of social hierarchy in Latium. A two-phase geophysical survey revealed a latent street grid that proved a worthy impetus for excavations to begin in 2009.

Fast forward three years to June 2012 … the project has now completed two survey seasons, three excavation seasons, and is embarking on its fourth excavation season. Our multi-national team brings students at all levels from all over the world to work in the heart of this extinct Latin city where they learn first-hand the cutting edge techniques of field archaeology. The site is offering up a complex narrative of settlement and abandonment that begins with evidence for Orientalizing period elite burial of infants and continues to Imperial Roman inhumation burials and industrial works, especially those aimed at exploiting the local tufo bedrock. In the middle of the story, so to speak, is a fascinating glimpse of what Italy was like at the mid-point of the first millennium BCE, when archaic elites lost traction and gave way to a differently organized society. The physical evidence of this at Gabii comes in the form of abandoned archaic compounds giving way to a quasi-orthogonal town plan that changes the alignment and apportionment of the city itself.

Our team has been in the field for over two weeks thus far in 2012 and while on June 29 we were idled by a public holiday in Rome, the day was a good one for reflection on the project, its participants, and its aims. The dual goals of excavating early Italian urbanism and helping to train a new generation of field archaeologists work surprisingly well in the pluristratified urban contexts of this Latin site. The team looks forward to unlocking more of Gabii’s secrets in the coming weeks and years.


A Day in an Archaeological Tool Kit

My day of archaeology is relatively mundane: I spend most of it working on my dissertation, a look into the transition from slavery to freedom on a 19th century plantation in Southern Maryland. While I love my work, I often get the urge to be in the field, particularly with the weather as wonderful as it has been this week. So, I thought I’d take out my archaeology bag and show you around.

The archaeology bag is more than just a bag with your trowels in it: in many ways it is a reflection of what kind of archaeologist you are. I’m one of those guys who likes to have a tool for everything. I am a gadget man, and I’m always on the lookout for a new tool that could help me be a more effective archaeologist, or to be more helpful in the field.

My bag is a Mountain Hardware Splitter. I particularly like this bag because it is comfortable and rugged, and can hold a great deal of equipment. It was originally designed for mountain climbers to hold their ropes. It has some nifty features on it. My particular favorite is a system of loops at the top of the inside: I use them to attach carabiners to, and then hang equipment from the carabiners. This way, the equipment doesn’t bunch up at the bottom of the pack. Instead, it hangs, evenly distributed, throughout the entire pack. Not only does this mean things are easy to get to, but it also means that the weight is distributed throughout my entire back, making it easier to carry.

Some of my favorite tools include my trowels, which I received during my field school. Some tools I love for their practicality, such as the duct tape or the WD-40 to keep my tools from rusting, or some of the surprises (sham-wows work). Others still tend to be a bit more personal: if you click on the images below, you’ll notice that quite a lot of my tool bag is devoted to reducing perspiration (I have a very efficient personal cooling system). Towels, hats, sweat bands, hydration packs…I even carry a bag of salt with my lunch to replenish what I lose.

The tools you carry are also going to reflect where you excavate. I used to dig in Michigan, so foot and hand warmers have become a mainstay in my pack, as have an extra pair of gloves. Now that I’m in Virginia, hydration is the most important part of my kit. In addition to the hydration pack, I typically have two or three water bottles at the ready. A mosquito net has been advantageous in both states.

Safety is also a crucial component of the archaeology bag. Mine includes a tiny first aid kit, sunscreen, a hat, gloves for screening (nails and glass can cut), a reflective vest for roadside or hunting ground survey, and a hard hat (or at least, it did…then my dog chewed it up). Archaeology is a physical activity, and you never know when one of these items might be needed.

Finally, there’s lunch. It’s important to make sure that you eat an adequate lunch each day, as well as a few snacks throughout. I purchased a lunch bag from Mountainsmith (“The Sixer”) that can adequately hold enough food, snacks, and water, to keep me fueled for the day. It easily attaches to my pack via carabiners if necessary, or I can throw it over my shoulder with the strap. I always freeze one of my water bottles to serve as an ice pack. This saves me some room, and I have ice cold water to drink at lunch time. I also love my Mr. Bento: this contraption will keep food hot or cold for up to eight hours. There’s nothing like pulling out warm soup at lunch time when you’re excavating in frigid temps. The best part about the “Sixer”? It holds exactly six beers for post-excavation relaxing.

Feel free to browse the photos below for a glimpse into my bag of archaeological goodies. You’ll probably recognize most of them: we archaeologists are wonderful at the reuse of everyday objects. Click on an image and it will take you to my Flickr set, where I have added notes to the image describing the tools, what they are, and how I use them!

A Day at Michilimackinac

My primary responsibility this time of year is to direct the excavation at Colonial Michilimackinac State Historic Park.  Fort Michilimackinac was established by the French around 1715, taken over by the British in 1761, and dismantled and moved to Mackinac Island with the establishment of Fort Mackinac in 1781.  Archaeological excavation has taken place at Michilimackinac every summer since 1959 and provided the foundation of the reconstruction of about half of this fortified fur trading outpost.  We are currently excavating a fur trader’s house.


Everyday Archaeology

My Day of Archaeology is not in the field, or in the lab, or even at a conference.  By “everyday” I don’t mean mundane, quite far from it.  Everyday Archaeology is the way I choose to describe my experiences dabbling in the public aspect of museums.  Currently, I’m a PhD student at Michigan State University studying for exams and trying to get my dissertation proposal together, but I also work in our tiny museum shop, where my most common customers are children.  This job has been a completely new and enlightening experience, one which I feel has helped me grow as a future educator.  I’ve been thinking a lot about this question lately:  When I’m not in the field and not in the lab or in a place where there are artifacts readily available, how do I talk about archaeology in a way that gets people excited?

One answer is using toys.  We have several archaeology toys in our shop—things like pyramid dig kits, replica projectile points, and storybooks.  When I get asked about these items, either how they work or if they’re real artifacts, it’s an opportunity to engage young minds and create a spark of interest in the field.  Most recently, I was asked if I knew what was inside the pyramid in one of the dig kits.  I replied that it was a surprise, because you never know exactly what you’re going to find during an excavation, and he promptly told his mother he wanted to buy it.  Sometimes parents (or grandparents) stop in to buy a souvenir for their kids, and ask about archaeology in Michigan so they can relay the information with the present later.  Projectile points and their abundance are a popular topic of conversation, because they are easily relatable artifacts for kids, who are often interested handmade things.

Getting away from the books and artifacts during the day to talk to visitors, particularly children, grounds me and helps me put what I do in perspective.  I’ve been interested in the community aspect of doing archaeology since college, when I did lab analysis on a project where kids from a local school assisted in the excavation of their own neighborhood.  Archaeology should be meaningful for everyone, and I try to use my job in the Museum as a venue to excite curiosity for ways of knowing about the past.  Right now, that usually means talking to kids about toys, and at the end of the day I’m happy with my accomplishments.

Indiana Jones was Right.

I’m not sure how many of us would admit this, but I decided to become an archaeologist because of Indiana Jones. He had it all: action, adventure, the whip and fedora. And the theme song. Man, that theme song! When I was a kid, I used to spend my summers on the boat at Elephant Butte Lake in southern New Mexico, begging my dad to take me to Hospital Canyon so that I could see the building that were lurking just below the surface of the water. Each time we went, I would look down into the water, see the wooden buildings and tell myself that one day, I would go down there. Afterall, Indy would want me to.
Fast forward twenty years. I no longer live in southern New Mexico but in Northern Michigan. I never did get to go and check out the buildings of Hospital Canyon, but I did decide to follow in Indiana Jones’s footsteps. Kind of. I am a student of archeology, you see- nautical archaeology. Not something I would have expected from myself having grown up in the deserts of New Mexico, but there you are. I am not a diver, which some might think would hinder my ability to participate in field work. When I started studying the subject, I honestly thought the same thing. As it turns out, Lake Michigan is the place to be this summer.
I teamed up with a couple of NASII students this summer to do a project at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Empire, Michigan. We were lucky enough to have this amazing speciman wash ashore this past fall after what amounted to an inland hurricane. The structure was magnificent! We worked with an amazing archaeologist who helped guide us in our work, encouraging us in every way. I can’t speak for the rest of the team, but it was my Indiana Jones “moment” and the coolest day of my life. When the survey was over, we divided up the what needed to be done to get the monograph complete and went home.
Which brings me to today. Today, I am reminded of something that Dr. Jones told his students before he went off to find action and glory. He said that “Seventy percent of all archaeology is done in the library; research, reading.” That is what I am doing today: research and reading. It’s nothing glamorous, or sexy. And I am certainly not getting dirty digging in the dirt, or in this case knocked around by waves. But there is certainly a lot of work that goes into historical research of an unidentified vessel, the region it was found in, the circumstances under which it was found, and how it might possibly fit into the grand scheme of things. Thankfully, I spent most of my time in the library when the project plan was developed so today is dedicated to internet research: images mostly- period maps, lighthouse logs, meterological reports. This is something I can do comfortably in my pajamas at my kitchen table.
Today isn’t the most glamorous day of my archaeological career, and I’m sure it won’t be the last day like it. But I know that I can say that with each bit of research I uncover, I am that much closer to uncovering the mystery identity of this unknown shipwreck. And as I sit here at the kitchen table, coffee in hand, I know that the fictional archaeologist was right. Archaeology is a lot of research. But the day that I go back out into the field, I will most definitely be humming my own theme song.